Dodgy debt collectors will be named and shamed if the nation’s consumer watchdog finds they misled or harassed businesses and customers struggling to meet financial obligations.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has confirmed it will be monitoring the behaviour of debt agencies seeking to recoup outstanding amounts from individuals and businesses.
Concerns have been sparked within the country’s competition regulator following the ending of JobKeeper and debt deferral periods brought in at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
It believes the cut-off of support measures will likely result in a rise in complaints lodged to the ACCC in relation to debt firms.
Speaking to NCA NewsWire, ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said the regulator was attempting to bring awareness to consumers and businesses of legal rights designed to protect people from debt collectors’ hawkish and harassing behaviour.
“You have a right to question the debt, whether or not you owe the debt and to demand evidence of it,” Ms Rickard said.
“We are really concerned with any debt collecting practices which are harassing and ignore consumer rights.
“We have taken action against several debt collection cases in recent years and we will not hesitate to take more.”
Ms Rickard also noted debt collectors could only contact a person between set hours and must respect the use of someone’s personal information.
Under Australian laws, if the outstanding amount is from more than six years ago, a collector is not able to pursue the debt. In the Northern Territory this is three years.
Debt collectors are usually third party businesses that buy debt from companies and then chase up the individual or business for the outstanding amount.
During the pandemic, many firms pledged not to pass on outstanding debts to third party collectors but Ms Rickard is concerned the tapering of support initiatives will prompt a rise in disputes.
“We are expecting to see a real rise in debt collection issues,” she said.
“If you are in financial difficulty, ask for a repayment plan, and the important thing there to remember is to get a repayment plan that you can actually meet.”
The ACCC urges Australians in financial distress to contact the National Debt Helpline (1800 007 007) or seek free advice from a financial counsellor.
Ms Rickard flagged consumers should steer clear of “for-profit” financial advice companies because in most cases the type of support was offered for free through financial counsellors.
“I would really be concerned about people who are already in financial difficulty getting themselves into greater difficulty using some of these for-profit schemes,” she said.
The ACCC also urges businesses and consumers to visit the federal government’s MoneySmart website for further financial help.